Weaver's elbow could point Angels toward another awful April
Angels fans can be forgiven if the news of Jered Weaver's absence conjures a dispiriting case of déjà vu. Last year, the Angels struggled through an awful April, going 8-15 on the month and later lost Weaver for most of June due to inflammation in his lower back. This year, the Halos are off to the same 2-4 start they opened with a year ago and have already lost Weaver for an even longer period, one that will make it all the more difficult for them to correct their course.
Weaver is going to miss at least a month with what the Angels announced Tuesday afternoon is a "non-displaced radial head fracture" in his left, non-pitching elbow. He suffered the injury in the fifth inning of his start on Sunday against the Rangers when he fell to the mound to avoid a comebacker off the bat of Mitch Moreland.
The Angels' struggles last April effectively sank their season. Had they been just one game over .500 in the season's first month, they would have finished the season in a three-way tie for the wild card with the Rangers and Orioles. This year, though the Rangers and defending AL West champion A's are expected to see some decrease in their performance relative to last year, the race in the West is expected to be just as tight, meaning Los Angeles can ill-afford another slow start.
It's too early to draw any meaningful conclusions from the Angels' performance thus far. One encouraging note is that their competition over the first six games has been far stronger this year, in which they have played the Reds and Rangers on the road, while in 2012 they opened at home against the Royals then traveled to Minnesota. Another is that Albert Pujols, who didn't hit his first Angels home run until May 6 of last year, had a two-homer game against the Rangers on Saturday. The Angels also already have Mike Trout in their lineup, whereas they didn't call him up until April 28 last year. Trout is off to a bit of a slow start, hitting just .250 (7-for-28) without much in the way of power, walks, or stolen bases. Then again, he has reached base in every game this season.
More problematic is the state of the team's rotation without Weaver. The first time through the rotation, L.A.'s other four starters averaged just under six innings per start and a shade under three runs allowed (thanks to a stingy 5 2/3 innings by Jason Vargas). They also allowed six home runs (three off Joe Blanton) while striking out just 16 in 22 2/3 innings, which translates to a sub-par 6.4 K/9 (league average thus far this season is 7.8 K/9). While only Blanton was genuinely bad in his first start, none of the others, save perhaps Tommy Hanson for whom his bare-minimum quality start exceeded expectations, provided much reason for optimism. To that group, which is now headed by C.J. Wilson, the Angels will add 24-year-old righty Garrett Richards, with ex-Ray Dane De La Rosa taking Richards' spot in the bullpen.
It was also Richards who replaced Weaver in the rotation during his disabled list stay last year. Though the initial results were good, Richards remained in the Angels rotation long enough for the worm to turn, leaving him with a 4.42 ERA over nine starts with a lousy 0.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio in those starts, though the team went 6-3 in those games. Richards has made four relief appearances thus far this season, three of them scoreless, one of them resulting in a blown save via an Adrian Beltre solo homer. The loss of Weaver thus places increased pressure on Los Angeles' highly-touted offense, especially centerpieces Pujols, Trout and new addition Josh Hamilton, who was slumping badly until coming through with a three-hit game in a losing effort against his old team on Sunday. Those are three of the best players in the game, so they should be up to the challenge, but for the second season in a row, the Angels find themselves having to dig out of an early hole.